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Unprocessed Resignation

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A military officer, or a police officer, or an intelligence agent, resigns their commission, leaves, and goes to deal with the thing that prompted them to resign. They resolve that situation, then they go to their former superior to ask to be allowed to return to duty. But that's unnecessary because the superior just didn't get around to sending the resignation letter to the appropriate channels. Maybe the letter never even left the superior's desk.

It doesn't count for this trope if the officer or agent threatens to resign but takes no formal steps to resign, such as writing a resignation letter or surrendering a badge and service pistol.

It does count if the superior becomes unable to process the resignation because they themselves are dismissed from the organization, or they fall ill or they go missing or they die.

May overlap with Insignia Rip-Off Ritual if done in front of a superior who can interpret the gesture as a resignation.

May overlap with Resign in Protest and perhaps even Resigned in Disgrace. This is different from Resignations Not Accepted, in which the officer or agent would never actually be allowed to leave the organization under any circumstance.

In a TV series, this can be a Reset Button, allowing a character to have one or more (but not too many) episodes with storylines that are different than their usual. Then, when the writers are ready to bring the character back to their normal milieu, we find out the resignation just wasn't processed.

May overlap with 10-Minute Retirement, especially if the superior recognizes that the officer or agent just needs a short breather.

May possibly overlap with Fake Defector, but this is highly unlikely because if the resignation was a ruse to flush out a mole, the resigning officer or agent would understand that they can return to duty once the ruse has run its course (unless their superiors aren't aware of the plan).

Unlikely to overlap with Non-Promotion, Reluctant Retiree, Take This Job and Shove It, Unconfessed Unemployment.

See also: Turn in Your Badge.


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    Fan Works 
  • In the Discworld fics by A.A. Pessimal, set-in-his-ways veteran Sadist Teacher, Mr Mericet, throws in his resignation in protest at the Guild School deciding to go co-educational and taking in mere "girls" as pupils for the first time. Mericet is also enraged at a seismic shift in Assassins' Guild philosophy that now bans a teacher from killing a pupil in the Final Exam. He writes his resignation in protest at this namby-pamby liberalism. Lord Downey sighs and hides it underneath everything else in the in-tray until Mericet is talked out of it by one of the new women teachers the Assassins have taken on (he's actually developed romantic feelings for her).
  • Basically defied in the Stargate SG-1 "A Pretense of Romance", which sees Sam Carter resign from the Air Force when she refused to follow the orders of General Bauer ("Chain Reaction"); even after Bauer resigns and General Hammond is reinstated, Sam can't simply re-enlist as certain other parties argue that she may refuse to accept other orders in future, and since nobody else was willing to perform the naquadah experiment in Sam's place nobody can definitively say she did the right thing (in canon the naquadah-enhanced warhead Bauer wanted to test destroyed an entire planet and nearly destroyed the SGC). The story begins months after Sam's resignation when she is only working at the SGC in a civilian capacity and is no longer part of SG-1, but the fic concludes with Hammond having pulled sufficient strings to get Sam back on SG-1, even if she's officially just a civilian rather than back in the Air Force.
  • In the last chapter of the Ben 10/Stōked crossover fic Hanging Ten, Ben turns in his letter of resignation (along with giving Baumer a piece of his mind) after the Forever Knights try to use his fellow groms as bait against him, which also results in Lo dumping him for keeping secrets from her. After the two patch things up and Ben changes his mind, Mr. Ridgemont is able to re-hire him by claiming to be unable to read the letter of resignation due to poor penmanship.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Behind Enemy Lines: The main character hands Admiral Reigart his resignation letter, but is sent on one last patrol before it is officially accepted. After the events of the film, he asks for the letter back and gets it.
  • The 1987 Dragnet film has Friday forced to hand over his badge and service weapon to Capt. Gannon. Later, after he and Streebek have thwarted P.A.G.A.N.'s assassination attempt and Streebek is about to go after the mastermind, Gannon stops him and tells him that he can't bring a civilian along on a hot pursuit. He then produces Friday's badge and hands it back to him, saying he didn't have the heart to actually turn it in.
  • On Her Majesty's Secret Service: After being taken off the hunt for Ernst Blofeld, James Bond asks Miss Moneypenny to submit his letter of resignation from the British Secret Service to M, his boss. M later calmly tells Bond that his request is granted, which surprises him—he thought M would be angry. He then checks the paperwork and finds out that Moneypenny submitted a request for two weeks' leave instead, which was why M was so unconcerned.
  • Starship Troopers: While still in boot camp, Johnny Rico resigns from the Mobile Infantry. As he's leaving the camp, the Arachnids drop an asteroid on Buenos Aires. Johnny tries to cancel his resignation, but the commanding officer says that Johnny has already signed the form and it wouldn't be legal. Johnny tells him that his entire family was in Buenos Aires when it was destroyed. Drill Sergeant Zim (with the commanding officer's implicit consent) says that Rico's signature on the resignation papers doesn't look like his and tears up the papers, allowing Johnny to stay in boot camp.

  • X-Wing Series: In The Krytos Trap by Michael A. Stackpole, the New Republic refuses to authorize a military operation to capture the bacta-producing planet Thyferra from Director of Imperial Intelligence Ysanne Isard, believing Warlord Zsinj a greater threat. Rogue Squadron resigns en masse to conduct their own private war against Isard, which takes up book four, The Bacta War (also by Stackpole). Upon returning to Coruscant in Wraith Squadron by Aaron Allston, the Rogues find out their resignations were "accidentally" misfiled and the New Republic has retroactively declared the whole endeavor an official operation.
  • In the Jack Ryan novel Executive Orders newly sworn-in President Jack Ryan is challenged by former Vice President Ed Kealty (whom Ryan replaced at the end of Debt of Honor) saying that Kealty's resignation was never formally signed before President Durling and most of the federal government was wiped out in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol, making Kealty the actual President. After a lot of legal wrangling, the courts dismiss Kealty's claim.
  • In the Discworld novel The Fifth Elephant, Captain Carrot attempts to hand in his resignation to Lord Vetinari in order to follow Angua to Ɯberwald. Vetinari doesn't exactly refuse to accept it, but does point out Carrot is owed a lot of vacation time, and if he comes back in a few weeks and says he's taken it, that would be acceptable.

    Live-Action TV 
  • CSI: NY: Has a straight example and a minor one during the same time frame. The season 7 finale, "Exit Strategy," was written as a series finale just in case the show wasn't renewed. Danny reveals to his wife/co-lab worker Lindsay that he has taken and passed the Sergeant's exam. Also, Mac confides in Jo (after a near-death experience with a perp) that he is unsure how long he can continue doing his job and wonders if he's done his "share of good." In the season 8 premiere, "Indelible," it is revealed that Mac has retired from the NYPD Crime Lab to work at Piper Laboratories trying to develop new ways of extracting DNA to help identify the remains of over 1000 victims of 9/11, including his wife, Claire. He is also assisting with the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance project in honor of the first responders who lost their lives in the line of duty that day. The episode ends with the dedication of the Wall, during which Mac gives a speech.note  In the following episode, "Keep It Real," Mac has returned to the Crime Lab, saying that he's talked to Chief Sinclair and that his "retirement papers have been pulled." Sinclair had been dragging his feet in looking for his replacement during the 4 months Taylor was absent; Jo tells Mac she never believed he was gone because he hadn't used all of his comp time; no one has removed the boxes of his belongings from his office. Two episodes later, Danny voluntarily demotes himself back to Detective and returns to the Lab as well, after having been betrayed by a group of rookie officers he was mentoring.
  • Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.: The series finale, "Goodbye Camp Henderson, Hello Sergeant Carter", has a form of this, where Gomer puts in his papers to transfer to another base, Camp Lejune, after Sgt. Carter yells at him for the latest time. Gomer had painted Carter's office as a well-intentioned present, but Carter reminds him that he was not asked to do it and instead it did nothing but "stink up the place." This instance of a verbal reprimand was the apparent tipping point. After venting his frustrations to Cpl. Slater, he is reminded that Gomer has done many good things and earned many commendations (told via flashback), and most importantly been there for Carter. Carter, who was initially relieved to finally be rid of Gomer, is remorseful and secretly cancels the transfer.
  • JAG Season 3: Mac leaves Navy JAG to practice law at a civilian law firm. But when she decides to return to JAG (in "People v. Rabb"), it turns out Admiral Chegwidden never processed her resignation. Mac can return to duty as if nothing really happened, she just used up her leave time. The trope is subverted in Season 9 when Harm is shocked to find that Chegwidden did process his resignation quite promptly and now Harm must now go do something other than being a lawyer in the Navy (circumstances eventually force the Navy to reactivate Harm's commission a few episodes later).
  • Luke Cage (2016): In the sixth episode of season 2, Misty Knight decides to turn in her badge and gun, deciding that so long as she plays by the NYPD rules she won't accomplish anything, while if she goes outside the box, she'll go off the deep end become a dirty cop like Scarfe had been. One episode later, Ridenhour is murdered along with Comanche after Shades catches the two meeting together. In the episode after that, while in Ridenhour's office, Misty finds her badge and gun still in his desk drawer. Nandi tells Misty that Ridenhour never submitted the resignation paperwork and there was an office betting pool that it would only be a matter of time before Misty came crawling back.
  • Played with in Major Dad: Major John McGillis puts in his retirement paperwork. But he doesn't like retirement and is desperate to get back into the Marine Corps. It turns out he made a typo on his retirement paperwork so his retirement was never processed.
  • Inverted in an episode of M*A*S*H, "Your Retention, Please." Corporal Klinger, who normally tries any scheme he can to escape the Army after being drafted, decides to re-enlist after his wife divorces him, reasoning he has no life left back home. Klinger insists that Colonel Potter swear him in, Potter tricks him into reciting the Presidential Oath, which is similar to but not the same as the enlistment oath. This invalidates Klinger's re-enlistment.
  • Monk: "Mr. Monk Visits a Farm." Thinking he's not cut out to be a homicide investigator, Randy resigns from the force to work on his late uncle's farm. But after a month, and suspecting his uncle was murdered, he invites Monk out to investigate. After Monk solves the case of his uncle's alleged suicide and the farmhand convinces Monk to feed Randy the solution, Randy returns to San Francisco with renewed confidence, ready to talk to the police chief to ask for his badge back. But Stottlemeyer reveals he never processed Randy's resignation, claiming Randy was just out sick with meningitis.
  • NCIS: Gibbs leaves NCIS at the end of Season 3, only to return in Season 4 in order to re-open an old case. He tells the director he needs to be temporarily reinstated, and she "finds" Gibbs's retirement paperwork package, saying that she "must have mixed it up" with the paperwork for his unused leave time.
  • In Power Rangers S.P.D., gadget tester Boom resigns from SPD as his attempts to impress his parents endangered the Rangers and himself. However, when he risks his life to rescue Jack and Sky from a pocket dimension even after he's submitted the paperwork, Commander Cruger states that Boom didn't properly sign the resignation papers and welcomes him back to the organisation.
  • Stargate SG-1: In "Forever in a Day", Daniel resigns from the SGC after his wife Sha're's death. This is partly because finding her was his purpose in being there in the first place, and partly because he doesn't want to deal with working alongside Teal'c, who killed her to save Daniel. Later in the episode when he wants to come back, General Hammond claims to have forgotten to process his resignation anyway. The whole episode turns out to have been All Just a Dream.
  • Pops up several times in Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Sub Rosa", Beverly falls in love with a "ghost" and resigns her commission. Picard saw that she was behaving strangely and chose to ignore the resignation while he investigated.
    • At the end of the two-part premiere episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Picard claims he "didn't yet have a chance" to inform Starfleet about Sisko's stated plan/request to resign his commission rather than take command of the station. He still takes a moment to confirm Sisko is sure about his choice to stay and take on the important assignment before agreeing to forget it entirely and wishing him luck.
    • In the episode "Afterimage," Ensign Ezri Dax is having trouble dealing with the new emotions that she has post-joining. Dax resigns from Starfleet, but Captain Sisko never files the paperwork because he knows that she just needs time to adjust.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Looney Tunes short "You Ought to Be in Pictures", Porky Pig asks producer Leon Schlesinger to let him out of his cartoon contract so he can break into live-action features. Leon agrees and seemingly tears up Porky's contract and throws it away; but as Porky leaves, Leon turns to the camera and says "He'll be back". Sure enough, after getting into pictures doesn't pan out, Porky returns and begs for his job back. Leon then tells him he never tore up the contract and he can get back to work.

    Real Life 
  • Monica O'Leary, who was dismissed from Canter Fitzgerald the day before 9/11, learnt that her dismissal wasn't processed due to Human Resources having been wiped out during the attack.